Fear is a Risk, Too: Managing Real and Perceived Business Risks in Uncertain Times
March 19, 2020
The only thing that is certain right now is uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting nearly every business, border and supply chain. Seemingly overnight, we have moved to the point that it’s no longer business as usual, it’s business unusual.
We, as communicators, have been busy trying to manage the response to our employees, customers, prospects and the communities we serve. My inbox has been filled with a steady stream of assurances about how the companies I interact with are addressing the current crisis and ensuring business continuity through these challenging times. And this wave of communications is a good thing.
Communicating Effectively to your Employees
In fact, according to a recent poll we ran of more than 1,000 Americans age 18 and older, most employed Americans are satisfied with the level of communications they are currently receiving from their employer. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed also said that their company is doing a good job communicating to employees about coronavirus. See the full study here.
Communicators are off to a good start, but the more difficult times and more challenging and complex communications are yet to come. The initial responses and assurances are often easier to manage than the cadence of difficult decisions and communications that follow once a crisis moves from a breaking event to a longer-term reality.
The stock market is bouncing around like a yo-yo, entire industries are being disrupted, mass layoffs are just starting, major cities are recommending or considering shelter-in-place orders, and supply chains are being fundamentally disrupted. The effects are very real, and the pain will be felt for a long, long time.
So, buckle up – it will be a long and wild ride. As we face this new reality, we also face new fears. Over time, it will likely shift from an immediate concern about the health and safety of those most vulnerable to lasting concerns about the broader impact of what we can and can’t see coming in the economy and business environment. Will unemployment jump to 20 percent? Will we ever be able to get our suddenly remote workforces back into offices – and should we? How do we deal with extended school closings for those employees without childcare? What if our top salespeople stay grounded for an extended period? What if our customers pull back or go out of business? How do we keep the balance sheet in the black?
There are so many questions of uncertainty to be answered and a lot more anxiety and tough communications to come.
Channeling the Famous Advice from Franklin D. Roosevelt
I heard a comment the other day about the risk of fear, and it spurred me to look up the famous “fear” speech that FDR delivered at his presidential inauguration. And while the crisis was very different nearly 100 years ago, it still holds sage advice.
“This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance. In every dark hour of our national life a leadership of frankness and vigor has met with that understanding and support of the people themselves which is essential to victory. I am convinced that you will again give that support to leadership in these critical days.”
So, how can we channel FDR to keep fear at bay in these trying times?
Focus on your strategic goals and shore up your businesses’ foundations the best you can. Now is the time to prioritize your emphasis and resources on the most critical parts of your business. It’s one thing to assure others about business continuity; now is the time to demonstrate it.
Realize that you must face uncertainty head-on. These truly are unprecedented times. Set a game plan and follow it. Regularly review and adjust as needed. Doing something versus waiting for something to happen will help give you a greater sense of control.
Connect to and center on your company’s purpose. Now more than ever, it is important to remind employees what you stand for and to rally them around your company’s purpose. Find and promote the stories that show the world why what you do matters.
Look for opportunities to pivot. In every crisis, there is opportunity. If you see opportunities to embrace the current reality with different uses of technology or delivery models, don’t wait. A quick pivot can help enhance customer loyalty.
Don’t underestimate your own resiliency. It’s easy to overestimate the negative and underestimate how strong you really are. Make sure that you take time to take care of yourself and even if you take it one day at a time, push yourself to keep moving forward.
It’s not a sprint. For the foreseeable future, it’s business unusual. The current situation will take time to work through and the aftershocks will linger. Settle in; it will be a long road ahead.
Don’t let fear become a risk for your business. Stay strong and do your best to lead by example.
For new updates and other resources, please visit www.gscommunications.com/coronavirus, and do not hesitate to contact us with further inquiries. We know the uncertainty brings significant business risks, and we’re here to help.